Beach condo sued by woman in wheelchair for FHA discrimination
Daily Business Review
08 September 2016
All was well until board members on a Miami Beach condominium
association saw her in person, according to a discrimination lawsuit by
a woman who uses a wheelchair.
resistance from the
Rachel Siler, 31, said she got a rude awakening after traveling from
Chicago to move into Abbott House, blocks from one of South Florida's
most popular beaches. She said she moved in despite resistance from the
condo board, which allegedly retaliated by changing her call-box number
to prevent her guests from buzzing in, locking the gate she used,
banning a service animal and installing a table in front of an
automatic door sensor.
Siler leased the condo without visiting through a Miami real estate
agent, who sought a property with elevators, wheelchair ramps, wide
doors and proximity to public transportation.
At $1,300, the one-bedroom corner unit at Abbott House was perfect. It
fit her budget, met all access criteria, had marble floors that aided
wheelchair operation and Art Deco architecture that complimented
Siler's collection of midcentury antiques.
She did not get the reception that she was expecting
"She did not get the reception that she was expecting," said plaintiffs
attorney Matthew Dietz of Disability Independence Group Inc. in Miami.
Siler expected a perfunctory meeting with the condo board based on
conversations with her landlord and real estate agent, who weren't
named as defendants. But Dietz said Abbott House Inc. officials seemed
alarmed by his client's disability and the presence of her personal
assistant and caregiver.
"Instead of speaking to Rachel, a board member started asking questions
of Rachel's assistant as if Rachel could not speak for herself," Dietz
said, "Do you live with her? Will you always be with her? Do you sleep
Abbott House's community association manager Orlando Castro of
Hialeah-based Casmat Professional Services Inc. denied any wrongdoing.
"We were very kind to her and allowed everything that we could," Castro
said before referring further inquiries to the association's attorney.
Defense attorney Joseph Richard Miele Jr. of Kaufman Dolowich &
Voluck in Fort Lauderdale did not respond to requests for comment by
'It was excruciating'
Siler was making the move to accept a job as an independent-living
advocate at the nonprofit Center for Independent Living of South
Florida. In her new position, she'd continue the work she'd done for
years by helping disabled clients find affordable and accessible
But on the day of her move, she said the condo board and property
manager peppered her with intrusive questions, including inquiries
about her private life, in an effort to dissuade her from taking
possession of the unit.
"It was excruciating," she said. "I showed up, they saw I was in a wheelchair, and they started asking deep questions."
Siler said she'd exchanged a series of texts with Castro to confirm the
moving date and arrange to pay administrative fees. She said both the
real estate agent and landlord cleared her to occupy the condo and
assured her the condo board meeting was a formality.
But after the in-person meeting, Castro issued a denial via email, which was attached to court documents.
"By the understanding of the board of directors … the building has not
the appropriate accessibility for people with disabilities," according
to the message.
The denial letter cited a lack of curb ramps, handicapped parking
spaces, loading areas, restroom accommodations and other factors.
"All of the above are part of the main considerations of the Americans
with Disabilities Act," according to the email. "The association cannot
be responsible for any future claim requested by Ms. Siler and any
other officer of … Miami-Dade County."
six-count complaint demands a jury trial.
Siler, who had keys to the unit, moved in on her attorney's advice and
sued in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Her
six-count complaint demands a jury trial. It alleges violation of the
Fair Housing Act; failure to reasonably accommodate; discrimination in
the terms, conditions or privileges of the provision of housing
services or facilities; retaliation under the federal Fair Housing Act;
intentional interference with a contractual relationship; and
intentional interference with an advantageous business relationship.
"The most important thing to me is that people realize they cannot deny
people with disabilities somewhere to live. The landlord approved me. I
can afford it. There is no reason for them to deny me," Siler said.
"Now they're hindering my ability to get into my home. It's crazy that
they think they can do that."
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